Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: What I liked...more or less


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week's focus on which books exceeded or didn't meet our expectations.  Like many memers, I chose to go with the 5 in each camp approach.

What I liked MORE than expected:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - I put off reading this classic American novel for decades because of its saccharine sweet reputation.  When I finally read it, I was astounded by how good it was.  Yes, it was sweet, but there is a darkness there, and grit and realism and courage that make it a wonderful novel and an important novel in American history.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - I assumed that it was nothing but propaganda, but the writing is excellent and the characters multi-faceted and nuanced.  I am so glad I finally read it and consider it one of the most important documents ever written in America.

Dracula by Bram Stoker - I tend to avoid horror stories and horror movies, and vampires are so over-exposed that they're cliche, but this original story created a genre and I found myself impressed by the realism and style.  A real nail-biter in which the author doesn't romanticize the monster...what a novel idea!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I went to the movie whilst on vacation with my kids and husband and was surprised by how much I liked it.  So I read the book and was really impressed by how good a book it is.  I had dismissed it as YA sensationalism, but it has an interesting premise and is well-executed.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe - I expected to be rolling my eyes at the gothic excesses of this classic novel, but instead found myself enjoying it immensely, from the panoramic scenes to the dastardly deeds of the villain to the timely fainting of the heroine.  Yes, it's over-the-top, but in a very entertaining way. 


What I liked LESS than expected:

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - I started this with great anticipation and while I liked it well enough to give it a decent review, I didn't like it well enough to consider rereading it.  I'm not sure it lived up to its hype.

The Aspern Papers by Henry James - While James and I don't get along all that well, I was expecting to enjoy this story after reading about it in John Berendt's City of Falling Angels.  However, I found this novella almost interminable--dull, dull, dull.  I just finished rereading City of Falling Angels, and am once again considering reading The Aspern Papers--do I not learn from the past?  Why do I think this time it will be any better?

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough - I've enjoyed a number of McCullough's books over the years--Logan's Run, The Thornbirds, The First Man in Rome, and others, so I was so excited when I heard she had written a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. This is seriously one of the worst books I've ever read.  I should have abandoned it, but I received a review copy and was determined to read it cover to cover and to see if it redeemed itself.  I still have no idea why McCullough decided to write this book.  Truly awful.

Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara - The prequel to The Killer Angels, written by Shaara's father, Michael, I found it almost unreadable.  The Killer Angels is one of my all-time favorite books--I've read it about four times and foist it on anyone who expresses an interest in the American Civil War.  Where The Killer Angels is humanistic, moving, and insightful, Gods and Generals is pedantic, preachy, and trite.  

Hard Times by Charles Dickens - After not reading a Dickens novel for roughly ten years, I returned to the fold with this book and he almost lost me again for another ten.  I found it preposterous and arrogant.  It's as if Dickens got so full of himself as a reformer that he forgot his craft.  Reading this book was truly a chore, and I breathed such a sigh of relief when I finally reached the end.  I knew I wouldn't like it--I always felt that he ripped off Elizabeth Gaskell with this book--but I really didn't expect to loathe it!


15 comments:

  1. I surprised myself by liking Dracula - much better than I expected!

    The Thirteenth Tale was a bit of a let down for me as was The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, which is a terrible book - a shame as I really like her Rome series and Morgan's Run.

    I read Hard Times as part of an Open University course and quite liked it, but I'd expected to find it harder than it is. I thought parts of it were quite funny - it reminded me of some of the Monty Python sketches, maybe they'd read it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, I never thought of Hard Times in relation to Monty Python, but you might be on to something. Hard Times seems to be quite a polarizing book--you either love it or hate it.

      Delete
  2. I absolutely love Little Women, and I quite often revisit it. It's just such a charming story with such lovable characters.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I hated Hard Times. Hated, hated, hated it. It's the shortest of his novels and I seriously believe it's because he left all the good stuff out. Seriously, there isn't one comic character, one thing that I liked about that novel. It's a good thing I'd already read Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, two of my favorites, or I'd have given up on Dickens forever.

    I too found The Thirteenth Tale overhyped. And I haven't read The Aspern Papers but The Turn of the Screw was the longest 150 pages I've ever read. I've heard Portrait of a Lady is good but I may have been turned off Henry James forever.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the comic characters in Hard Times, like everything else about this book, are overdrawn. It's like Dickens became addicted to creating weird characters in this book and didn't even try to create a story that his audience could relate to.

      Yes, Henry James can make a short story seem very, very long.

      Delete
  4. Ah, I adore "Little Women". I loved it as a girl because of the bond the sisters had, but rereading it later made me realize the other difficult issues that Alcott had included in there. I'm glad you ended up giving it a try. It's really quite an inspiring story. (Did you read "Good Wives" as well? Sometimes they're published as separate books instead of just one story.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did read the double feature--Little Women and Good Wives. You can't read one without the other!

      Delete
  5. I haven't read Dracula since I started bloggin, and it's one of my favorite books. I think it may end up on the agenda for later in the year. I have yet to read The Mysteries of Udolpho, though it's on my wishlist. And I'm sorry you didn't like The Thirteenth Tale as well as I did, I will say it took me two attempts to get through it though. Not sure I was in the mood during the first attempt, but by the time it was all over with, I loved it. I was the same way with The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Looks to be an interesting list of books. I am actually intrigued by Mysteries of Udolpho and really want to give it a try sometime.

    I agree that Dracula really was a great novel. Of course some of what it contains is now cliched but it created many of those cliches.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I loved Uncle Tom's Cabin - great characters, writing, and story - and have been meaning to read The Mysteries of Udolpho for years. My daughters really want me to read The Hunger Games, but I keep resisting. Maybe I should give in after all.

    My book club just selected The Thirteenth Tale, so it's up next for me. I'm not really looking forward to it, but hope to be pleasantly surprised. If print doesn't work, I may try audio since the production has gotten rave reviews.

    ReplyDelete
  8. And see I thought I might pick up Hard Times as my next Dickens to read a shorter book. Guess I'll stick with my first choice, Little Dorrit. Sorry to hear the Shaara was such a dud; guess we shouldn't just assume that great writing runs in families.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Despite my trashing Hard Times, I know there are people who love this book, so I would hate for you to never read it because I didn't like it. That said, there are only so many hours in a day, and too few to waste on books we don't like!

      Delete
  9. Nice choices. I had Hunger Games on my "liked more than expected" list too. And Northanger Abbey , which is kiiiind of like Mysteries of Udolpho :D

    ReplyDelete
  10. I love Dickens and am very forgiving of any of his weaknesses that people complain of, but I have to admit that Hard Times was disappointing. I thought the comparison above to Monty Python sketches was interesting because I imagined the whole thing as something acted out on stage rather than as a novel. I was studying the Industrial Revolution at the time that I read it, so I did enjoy reading it as a social commentary on the time period. Still, most definitely not one that made me gush as usual over Dickens.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Total agreement on The Aspern Papers. That one was brutal... :-)

    ReplyDelete